From Jazz to Sole—Introducing ShoeDazzle

Give a girl the correct footwear and she can conquer the world
—Bette Midler

I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes, I had one thousand and sixty
—Imelda Marcos

As entrepreneurs who experienced the first wave of the Internet, we regularly recognize ideas from the creative ferment of the late ‘90s being pitched to us in a new form by today’s entrepreneurs. The newest member of the Andreessen Horowitz family, however, is reinventing a concept pioneered by a 1920s startup—and doing so with dazzling success.  (Read yesterday’s post about old ideas made new again.)

A Jazz Age Startup

Back in 1926, an economist and advertising man named Harry Scherman and two co-founders established the Book of the Month Club.  Convinced that bookstores were not catering well to a rapidly-growing and geographically dispersed American middle class with an insatiable desire for literature, these 1920s entrepreneurs offered readers a revolutionary mail-order subscription book service.  Subscribers agreed to purchase a book recommended by the club every month, with no title costing more than three dollars.  If a customer didn’t like that month’s selection, they could swap it for an alternate title from the club’s list.

Scherman pioneered several remarkable innovations that contributed dramatically to the club’s remarkable success.  First, he built the club’s brand as a definitive arbiter of quality and taste.  The “Book of the Month” was chosen by an expert Selecting Committee made up of five famous writers and critics—the literary celebrities of the day.  Being published in a club-branded edition as a “Book of the Month Club Selection” was enough to propel a previously unknown author to mass popularity.  Second, he applied the principle of  “negative response”, in which subscribers would automatically receive a book every month unless they proactively opted out.  Finally, he tapped into consumers’ love of serendipity:  Club members would eagerly anticipate the arrival of each month’s new selection, chosen for them by the “curators” of the Selection Committee.

Scherman’s subscription book business brought millions of affordable, quality titles to a subscriber base of over half a million households by mid-century, and spawned hundreds of mail-order subscription successors throughout the twentieth-century, from Oprah’s Book Club to clubs for CDs and DVDs.   In a sign of a truly great idea, however, Scherman’s concepts are also the basis for an amazing new twenty-first century ecommerce business.

From Jazz to Sole—Introducing ShoeDazzle

I’m proud that Andreessen Horowitz is leading a $40 million growth investment in a company that’s leveraging the Internet to reinvent the fashion business in the same way that Scherman used the postal system to reinvent the book business.  The company is ShoeDazzle, and, while the business is women’s shoes and accessories and many of the concepts are new, the parallels to the Book of the Month Club and its brilliant execution are remarkable.

Every new ShoeDazzle member (now more than 3 million strong!) first takes an engaging 3-minute “style quiz” that allows the company’s stylists to create a monthly selection of shoes and accessories personalized to her individual style profile.  She then receives an email invitation to a personal online “showroom” based on her style profile, with a new selection on the first day of every month.  She chooses her favorite item (or items) for a standard $39.95, and receives them in a beautiful package within days.   She can request an alternate selection, or skip one or more months if she chooses, so the service is highly flexible.

Like Scherman with bookstores, ShoeDazzle’s founder and CEO Brian Lee realized that traditional e-commerce sites offering women’s fashion were missing the point.

Observing the pleasure his wife took from visiting a favorite boutique to buy her latest pair of shoes, Brian and his team set out to recreate and even improve upon that deeply satisfying shopping experience on the Web:

  • They recognized that many women go shopping because they enjoy it, so they focused on making the experience fun and entertaining rather than purely functional.
  • They used the concept of personal stylists to replicate the trust that women feel when they visit their favorite store.
  • Like Scherman with his committee of famous authors and critics, Brian recognized the influence of celebrities on women’s fashion choices, enlisting Kim Kardashian as his co-founder and recruiting an ever-growing roster of additional celebrities as stylists and sponsors.
  • Like their 1920s counterparts, Brian and his team realized the appeal of serendipity and anticipation.  ShoeDazzle members await the first of the month with its new selection with the same avid excitement Book of the Month Club members must have felt as they awaited the mailman with their latest monthly title.  Unlike their Jazz Age predecessors, they can share their experience of opening the box with the whole world.
  • Whereas the closest those 1920s entrepreneurs got to social networks was probably local book–reading clubs, the ShoeDazzle team has been able to leverage Facebook in a truly impressive way to create a truly remarkable social shopping experience and an extraordinary community of almost a million enthusiastic fans.
  • Like Scherman, Brian and team understood the importance of brand, and brand all their products with a ShoeDazzle name that stands for exciting, affordable, quality fashion products, curated by experts and backed by extraordinary customer service.

Transforming the way fashion products are marketed and sold

From Valpak to Groupon, from the Full Service Network to the Internet, from Excite to Google, from the Book of The Month Club to ShoeDazzle—the story of the technology business is often a story of old ideas made new again.  Like their illustrious predecessors, Brian Lee and his team have taken a great old idea, added some brilliant new ideas of their own, put it all into Twain’s “mental kaleidoscope”, and come up with a “new and curious combination” they call ShoeDazzle.  The result is a new and genuinely exciting approach to ecommerce that is transforming the way fashion products are marketed and sold.

We’re proud to be associated with the ShoeDazzle team, and we can’t wait to see where they take it from here.

  1. Jason Tan said:

    There's no mention of Brian and the executive team on the About Us page. Interesting strategic choice.

  2. Great post and choice for investment. Truly a copmany that is leveraging social commerce, subscription commerce and the consumer psychology behind it all. I featured Shoedazzle on my blog that covers Southern California months ago here

    If you are in LA, it would be great to meet and do a post about your interest in the LA startup arena.

  3. David Richardson said:

    Ben and John:
    I appreciate the effort you put into your blogs, and Ben, I really respect the insights you have provided regarding management techniques for entrepreneurial firms.

    I do not find your blogs defending and hyping your latest investments of use. They sound defensive instead of offensive.

    Take us back to offense in the Red Zone.


  4. Chris said:

    Another great example of the cyclicality in business and the importance of learning from the past – both successes and failures.

    Great to see that Brian saw a problem and solved it – looks like a really exciting company and one that should come and join us in London sometime soon!

  5. drewsing said:

    @Jason Tan, ShoeDazzle probably understands the importance of brand image as a fashion site, which is why they omitted Brian and put Kim in about us instead. Smart.

    This model is more sustainable than the saturated group buying model. Be interesting to see what kind of imitators ShoeDazzle's success will spawn.

  6. I am very inspired by this blog post and the recent investment in Shoe Dazzle. I own, and we send a pretty panty in the mail every month worldwide. We sell subscriptions but after reading your blog, we may want to consider the reoccurring billing model. Take a peek at the site, I'd love to know what you think.

  7. Mark P. said:

    I finally got around to asking a person who knows a thing or two about buying shoes & bags their take on possibly using ShoeDazzle – my wife. Here's the chat that ensued.

    hey… when you have a chance, checkout and tell me if you think it's something you would use more than once.
    11:18 AM

    ok – will do
    11:22 AM

    cute idea – but I'm not interested
    sounds scary
    i'd likely forget to skip and end up with a bunch of stuff I don't want
    shoes and handbags are my thing but I tend to be picky and like high end stuff – so not sure what the $40 stuff looks like
    12:00 PM

    thanks… very interesting
    12:03 PM

    How likely would you be to use this over Zappos?
    or do you even like Zappos for high-fashion items?

    zappos is good
    the reality is that I haven't really had a need to buy high end shoes/bags lately
    but I'd be more likely to use zappos
    I am also a big DSW fan
    for shoes (not bags)

    but you can't shop for shoes/bags in DSW online can you?

    no – online would be zappos
    but if I'm bargain shopping (high end for less cost) – I use DSW and Nordstrom rack
    and then I have this fly husband who has been known to buy me a bag or two


    are you doing mktg research or something?

    not really. Andressen Horowitz just invested big $$ in ShoeDazzle.
    And I know their service is supposed to be right up your alley. So I thought I would ask someone I trusted about the efficacy of the experience ShoeDazzle provides
    12:08 PM

    Of course, this is only one person's opinion but I thought it might be useful.

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